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Today in history: December 31

Find out what happened ten years ago, which celebrity is celebrating a birthday, plus more
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Friday, Dec. 31, the 366th and final day of 2004.

Today’s highlight in history:
On Dec. 31, 1879, Thomas Edison first publicly demonstrated his electric incandescent light in Menlo Park, N.J.

On this date:
In 1775, the British repulsed an attack by Continental Army Gens. Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold at Quebec; Montgomery was killed.

In 1857, Britain’s Queen Victoria decided to make Ottawa the capital of Canada.

In 1862, President Lincoln signed an act admitting West Virginia to the Union.

In 1877, President and Mrs. Hayes celebrated their silver anniversary (technically, a day late) by re-enacting their wedding ceremony in the White House.

In 1946, President Truman officially proclaimed the end of hostilities in World War II.

In 1961, the Marshall Plan expired after distributing more than $12 billion in foreign aid.

In 1974, private U.S. citizens were allowed to buy and own gold for the first time in more than 40 years.

In 1978, Taiwanese diplomats struck their colors for the final time from the embassy flagpole in Washington, marking the end of diplomatic relations with the United States.

In 1985, singer Rick Nelson, 45, and six other people were killed when fire broke out aboard a DC-3 that was taking the group to a New Year’s Eve performance in Dallas.

In 1986, 97 people were killed when fire broke out in the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Three hotel workers later pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the blaze.)

Ten years ago: Bosnian government officials and Bosnian Serb leaders signed a U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement. Russian ground forces launched a ferocious assault on the Chechen capital of Grozny. John C. Salvi III, accused of killing two receptionists at two Boston-area abortion clinics, was arrested in Norfolk, Va. (Salvi, later convicted of murder, committed suicide in prison).

Five years ago: People around the world celebrated the arrival of the year 2000. Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation. The eight-day hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in Afghanistan ended peacefully. The United States prepared to hand over the Panama Canal to Panama at the stroke of midnight. Former Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson died in Boston at age 79.

One year ago: A car bomb ripped through a crowded restaurant hosting a New Year’s Eve party in Baghdad, Iraq, killing eight Iraqis.

Today’s birthdays: Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is 96. Folk and blues singer Odetta is 74. Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins is 67. Actor Tim Considine (“My Three Sons”) is 64. Actress Sarah Miles is 63. Rock musician Andy Summers is 62. Actor Ben Kingsley is 61. Producer-director Taylor Hackford is 60. Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg is 58. Actor Tim Matheson is 57. Pop singer Burton Cummings (The Guess Who) is 57. Singer Donna Summer is 56. Actor Joe Dallesandro is 56. Rock musician Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith) is 53. Actor James Remar is 51. Actress Bebe Neuwirth is 46. Actor Val Kilmer is 45. Singer Paul Westerberg is 45. Rock musician Ric Ivanisevich (Oleander) is 42. Rock musician Scott Ian (Anthrax) is 41. Pop singer Joe McIntyre is 32.

Quote of the day: "In masks outrageous and austere The years go by in single file; But none has merited my fear, And none has quite escaped my smile.” —Elinor Wylie, American author (1885-1928)